'InClassica is a real beacon for the future of classical music,' says Violinist James Ehnes

The Canadian artist performed in Dubai on February 7

By CT Desk

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Published: Tue 20 Feb 2024, 1:26 PM

Over the past few days the 2024 InClassica International Music Festival, organised by SAMIT Event Group, has been lighting up the stage of Dubai Opera with a series of classical music concerts headlined by some of the biggest stars of our time.

This trend continued on Wednesday, February 7, as Canadian violinist James Ehnes, a two-time Grammy Award Winner, Gramophone Award and JUNO Award recipient, Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, Member of the Order of Canada, and awardee of the 2017 Royal Philharmonic Society Award, arrived in Dubai to deliver a concert at the festival, accompanied by the Berlin Symphony Orchestra who were led by UK conductor John Warner.

Together, the artists delighted audiences with a programme of works that included pieces from Bedřich Smetana, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and the festival’s Composer-in-Residence, Alexey Shor.

We sat down with Ehnes after his performance, to talk with him about his time here in Dubai.

Was this your first time travelling to Dubai? How have you found the city?

“It’s my first time in Dubai. I’ve had a little bit of a chance to see the city a little, and it’s utterly fascinating. I was in the UAE once before, in Abu Dhabi, and I’m really struck by how they’re very, very different places, but I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve seen so far and luckily I have an entire day tomorrow to be a good tourist so I’m looking forward to that, because I specifically wanted to make sure to have one day here where I could just enjoy and look around!”

This concert you just presented forms part of the 2024 InClassica International Music Festival. What do you think about this festival, and the work that it’s doing?

“I think the festival is just fantastic. I looked through the programme and it’s wonderful to see so many great musicians from all over the world really, coming and playing this beautiful music. It was a lot of fun performing out there for a very enthusiastic audience. It was really wonderful to see people reacting so honestly and so openly during the concert. Music is here to elicit emotion and when that happens we can all be very happy about that. This is also a beautiful place to play – this concert hall is spectacular, and this whole area is spectacular. I think it’s a real beacon, this festival, for the future of classical music, and I’m really excited to be involved.”

How did you find the relationship with the Berlin Symphony Orchestra and John Warner?

“It was my first time working with all of them, with John Warner and the Berlin Symphony. I think there were a few players in the orchestra that I’d worked with in various different places, and that’s always kind of a nice surprise, going into a festival situation, meeting new people, making new friends. In theory it could be quite a tricky situation but with musicians of this calibre it comes together very naturally. Before the first rehearsal there’s always that sense of ‘I wonder how it's going to work out’, but from the very start it was clear that it was going to be very smooth sailing all the way for us.”

Can you tell us a little bit about the piece that you presented this evening?

“Yes, I played Alexey Shor’s Violin Concerto No. 1 ‘Seascapes’. It was my first time performing anything by Shor. The piece itself I was familiar with – some of my friends and colleagues had played it – but it was my first time performing it, and my first time meeting Alexey as well! I’ll definitely be performing the piece more in the future so I’m looking forward to that. I think that the way he’s written the piece – and it’s not a new piece, it’s been around for some years – the way that it’s crafted, the way it’s notated, makes his intentions very clear I felt, so I felt very sure of what I was trying to say with it, but then of course when you meet the composer there’s always that moment where you wonder, ‘I hope they liked it’, but he seemed to be happy with it so I’m very happy as well.

I think that new music is fascinating because you have so many different kinds of approaches, you know, and I personally really love lyrical music like this. To me there’s an element of his music that’s almost theatrical, like it could be written for a film or for the stage. So this piece was a lot of fun for me because it has these very evocative titles and I think that in a way, as the solo violinist, you play the hero of this little tone poem that’s happening. So that’s a lot of fun.”

Now that InClassica’s behind you, what’s next on the horizon?

“Well on Monday I’m performing in New York at Carnegie Hall, then I have a recital tour – a couple of stops in the United States, couple of stops in England, Wigmore hall in london, and then in Cologne, Germany, so quite a bit of travel over the next few weeks!

I’d also love to come back to Dubai some time. I expected to like it, and I did! Now tomorrow as I mentioned I have this free day to explore more but I know that a city of so many riches and so many experiences, it would take a lifetime to get to know it properly, so yeah hopefully I can come back and get another taste.”

For more information about the InClassica International Music Festival, make sure to visit the official website at inclassica.com.

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